Wednesday, July 19, 2017

MIKE VITI: TRUE WARRIOR AND AMERICAN HERO


15 seconds into my interview with Mike Viti, I knew it was going to be one of the best ones
I've ever conducted. Viti isn't a household name, doesn't have a multi-million dollar contract in
his back pocket or rank as the most followed person in the Twittersphere.

No, he's none of that. Mike Viti is a true warrior and American hero. There aren't many of those
in this "look at me and my selfie" world we live in.

Viti is a combat veteran who served in Afghanistan. He was a military captain and earned a
Bronze Star for his courage and character in the global war on terror. Viti was also a four-year
letterman and captain of the Army football team during his senior year.


As we sat down on the West Point campus, which wreaks of history, honor, and tradition, I
expected something really special and I got it. In preparation for the interview, I scoured articles
and videos to get a better understanding of Viti. I knew that a disciplined, everything-close-to-the-
vest veteran wasn't going to warm up quickly to some reporter he had never seen or even
talked to before this afternoon. I surmised he'd have little time for someone who was unprepared, either.

My television feature story on Viti is going include the symbiotic relationship between sports
and service and how they might parallel each other when it comes to discipline, teamwork, commitment, sacrifice, and doing things the right way.

I am intrigued and in awe of anyone who has fought for this country. I admire all
those who have the courage to leave so much behind at home to fight against faceless enemies
a world away. To me, they are all heroes. Forever.

Mike Viti, center, military captain

After we settled into our seats, our eyes locked on one another. I figured Viti would have no
interest in opening up to someone who had shifty-eyes and couldn't stay engaged. I was engaged.
This was a war hero. The adrenaline was flowing.

"What does it mean to you to have fought for and served your country?"  was the first question
I asked. There was a pause and his steely-eye stare could've bore a hole through my forehead.
This question was right in his wheelhouse. This is what he lived for. This is what he wanted to
tell the world about.

"It was the greatest experience and honor of my life," Viti said in a strong, deliberate tone.

I got chills and could see the goose bumps stand at attention on my forearms.

Viti talked about honor, courage, country, sacrifice, and commitment. He never looked down
and didn't blink for what seemed like 10 minutes. This was his life, his world, his reality. I
was fully engrossed.

After we talked about his military and football experience and the collision of the two worlds,
we moved onto a subject that was spectacular and close to unbelievable.


In 2014, Viti walked from Seattle to San Diego then across the country to Georgia and finished
up in Baltimore. He wanted to bring awareness not to himself, but rather Gold Star families and
the more than 6,000 people who lost their lives in the global war on terror since 9/11.

4,400 miles on foot.

During his journey, Viti met with 67 Gold Star families. He often stayed at their homes overnight
and listened to parents, brothers and sisters, and children who lost a hero in the war. When he
wasn't taken in by a Gold Star family, Viti camped out under the stars. He walked through
Yuma, Arizona where the temperature reached 120 degrees. And sorry, while it may be dry heat,
temperatures that high can kill a person.

Viti started the journey at 240 pounds which was close to his playing weight and finished the
cross-country walk weighing about 185 pounds. Viti told me he got on a scale once during
the 232 day event and cringed when it read, 188. 


"It made me feel weak," Viti said. "I haven't been on a scale since then," he said. Viti is a
chiseled 195-pounds or so today. He doesn't have an ounce of fat on him.

Viti ended his journey at the Army-Navy game in Baltimore that year. Today, he's back at
West Point coaching fullbacks, the position he played for Army. I asked him about his future
aspirations.

"I want to be a head coach. I want to be a leader of men," he said. 

What an honor to be in the presence of a former military captain and Bronze Star recipient.
That doesn't happen everyday and I was grateful for the opportunity to talk with and interview
someone who has given so much to this country.

Mike Viti is a true patriot, true warrior, and most of all, an American hero.




Friday, July 14, 2017

GOOD-BYE, BIG HUGH DONOHUE


There are people you meet once that you'll remember for the rest of your life.

Hugh Donohue was like that.

There are people you spend time with, get to know, and come away saying, "I'd fall on a
sword for that guy."

Hugh Donohue was like that, too.

If there was a food label on him it would read: 100 percent natural. No artificial flavors or
preservatives added. He was as pure and genuine as a person could possible be. Huge Donohue
was real--plain and simple.

Donohue died on July 13. He lived a full and spectacular life, leaving an indelible impression
on a countless number of people, including me and so many student-athletes who passed
through the University of North Carolina. He enriched the Carolina experience like few ever
have on the tree-lined campus in Chapel Hill.


At 6'8" with a barrel-chest, Donohue was a mountain of a man blessed with a big heart, warm personality, and an unforgettable booming voice. He played basketball for Dean Smith and the
Tar Heels, which automatically made him royalty in the eyes of many of the young athletes at
UNC. He shared the court with  basketball legends like Larry Brown and Donnie Walsh and
was good friends with others such as Billy Cunningham, George Karl, and Bobby Jones.

If you loved Carolina, history, and sports, and needed a good story about all three, few could
weave it and make it come to life like Hugh Donohue. The New York native held court many
times as the owner of "Four Corners", a bar and restaurant that became a Franklin Street landmark
and hangout for just about every baseball player on what seemed like every night of the week.

We soaked up all of his stories and Carolina basketball memories. They were pure gold

Long before "Cheers" came along, "Four Corners" was a place where everyone knew your name.
It was  a home away from home, a stadium, or the challenges that we all faced trying to balance books and baseball. Huge Donohue made it that way.


He let most of us drink for free and would often turn the other way if he caught us raiding
the refrigerator for a late night snack. I'm sure his profit margin went down significantly during
our years there, but I don't think Donohue cared one bit. He was putting smiles on a lot of faces
and that was important to him.

Mr. D. was like a best friend who never judged and went out of his way to help no matter what
your status on the baseball team was. He treated everyone the same: beautifully.


Several years ago, I ran into Mr. D in Westchester Country, New York, not far from where he
grew up in Yonkers. He was the same man I met 25 years earlier in Chapel Hill with just a little
more gray in his hair. We shared a lot of laughs then went our separate ways. It would be the
last time I'd ever see him.

I was saddened by the news of his death. Anytime a great man passes on it is hard for his
family and friends. But the sadness was followed by a mile-wide grin on my face. Hugh Donohue
was a beautiful man. One who provided some great laughs and helped connect Carolina athletes
from all walks of life forever.

Rest in peace, Mr. D. We will never forget you.



Wednesday, July 5, 2017

I AM AN UNNAMED SOURCE


I am an unnamed source.

I'm often like Manti Te'os old girlfriend: you've heard of me but I don't really exist.

I'm like the fuel in the gossip section of your old high school cafeteria. I can ignite fires, bring
you down, and pretty much destroy your career if I want to. But you'll never catch me. I can
give a rumor validity even if it's not even close to being the truth. However, in this 140-character
or less, rush-to-judgement world we live in, does the truth really matter all that much anymore?
Sure doesn't seem that way.

I am an unnamed source.

I get used by members of the media like a fake I.D. on a college campus: a lot. They know
it's wrong but they just keep doing it until they get busted, which is very rare. These so-called
journalists slip me into their story, hoping to give it legs and some credibility. Oh, I can be a
reporter's mailman, milkman, or personal trainer, but just as long as Joe Live-from-the courthouse tags me as an unnamed source, I might as well be the head of the CIA.


I am an unnamed source.

One of the best things about being me is that nobody ever keeps track of my record. Seriously,
did you ever hear Wolf Blitzer say, "Our unnamed source was wrong. It's losing streak now stands
at seven when it comes to misinformation." It's like I'm playing with house money.

I am an unnamed source.

I am the shield for the weak and cowardly who want to talk a big game but aren't man enough
to attach their name to the nuclear missile they launched on a person's reputation or career.

I am an unnamed source.

I am the crutch shady reporters use when they don't want to prepare, dig deep, or go the
extra mile to strengthen a story with integrity and honor. No, with the media today, it's all about
getting it first, getting it fast, and going viral. Damn the facts.



You see what Mike Barnicle did? He tried to disguise me as "a family friend" for a significant
story. Man, did he get burned. Barnicle, a convicted plagiarist, reported the death of Pete Frates,
who wasn't actually dead. Then Barnicle tried to steer the blame towards that "family friend."
Ouch. What a dope!

I am an unnamed source.

Most decent journalists toe the unnamed source line because it protects them. If their unnamed
source turns out to be correct, then they can celebrate their scoop and pat themselves on the back
They might even get a thousand likes on Facebook after they post their big scoop. But if they are wrong, they can just blame it on the unnamed source and wash their hands of it.


With all the "Fake News" out there today, I'm getting used like never before. If I had a dollar
for every time I heard a reporter or anchor say my name, I'd be, according to an unnamed source,
far more wealthy than our nation's president.






Tuesday, July 4, 2017

A VERY SPECIAL FOURTH OF JULY


July 4. Independence Day. A celebration of the birth of our country. There will be fireworks,
hot dogs, parties, and most likely, a lot of alcohol consumed. It's a Federal holiday and one that
most Americans can fully enjoy without having to think about work.

Four years ago, I had to think about work because I had to. I drew the short straw and punched
the clock on the Fourth of July. It's usually one of the worst days in the television business
because the rest of the world is celebrating while you're covering parades, fender-benders, and
the rescue of some fat cat in a tree. In other words, B-O-R-I-N-G. About the only benefit to
working on the Fourth is the free food management usually orders for you. The food usually
sucks, but it tastes better only because you didn't have to pay for it.

On this day in 2013, however, the assignment I got was totally priceless and made working on
a holiday a special experience. There would be no parades, fender-benders, or the rescue of
some fat cat in a tree. I had to do a feature on a 98-year-old woman who tends bar on the
mean streets of Bridgeport, Connecticut.

When I arrived with my photographer, there she was in all her glory. Angie McLean looked like
Old Glory, dressed in red, white, and blue from head-to-toe. She had more than 30 miniature
American flags dotting her perfectly coiffed hair. McLean, is a star, who, after living nearly
a century, has more than earned her stripes. As I got set to interview her, I watched her buzz
around the bar, mixing drinks and serving customers with a smile on her face, and just wondered
to myself all the things she has experienced in her life, one that begin on April 6, 1915
.

I also said to myself, "This woman is living life. Retirement is a four-letter word to her. She
is 98-years old, working six days a week and has a smile on her face. I love this person."

As McClean settled in behind the bar for her interview, she seemed ready for my first question,
as if she knew it was coming.

"Why are you still bartending at 98-years old?", I asked.

"Because I'm not the type of person to sit around and watch TV. That's not for me," she
responded.

Great answer and one that left me saying, "Wow", to myself. I'm just praying I'm still
above ground and playing shuffleboard with my friends at 98, and this woman is loving
life as a bartender, slinging drinks six days a week. Take time to think about that for a second.......
incredible.


McLean lives by herself and is picked up by her bosses who take her to work and drive her
home after work every night. She dresses up for every holiday. On July 4th, McLean is an
American flag. On Christmas, she morphs into a Christmas tree with all the ornaments.

"Do you ever get tired from working six days a week," I asked her.

"Of course not. You have to keep moving. Life waits for no one. If you stop, it passes
you by," she said matter-of-factly.

Amazing. Perhaps, I was really talking to the sister of Norman Vincent Peale or the
grandmother of Anthony Robbins. She was so positive, so full of life and her energy
was rubbing off on me. I knew I was in the presence of someone truly special. No, she
wasn't a great athlete, movie star, or politician. Angie McLean is just a normal person
who has lived an extraordinary life exactly how she wants to live it.


McLean gave me a special gift without even knowing it. She inspired, motivated, and educated me. Today, I am 52-years old, exactly There is so much of life left to live, so much left to accomplish.

If I become a bartender for the rest of my life that won't be a bad thing, just as long as I
do it with a smile on my face like McLean has on hers every single day. Thank you
for the gift, Angie McLean.

Friday, June 30, 2017

INSPIRATION: KATY SULLIVAN, BLADE RUNNER


Katy Sullivan's entry into this world was rough. She was born without the lower part of her
legs and the doctor who delivered her tried to say the right thing in comforting Mrs. Sullivan,
but turned his words into a natural disaster.

“The world doesn’t need another athlete. But she will find plenty of other things to enjoy and
be good at.”

Young Katy would grow up to be actress, and a pretty good one. However, when Sullivan
was 25-years-old she discovered that it's never too late to be what you might have. She was
fitted with carbon-fiber prosthetics and started to run. Sullivan didn't stop running until she
reached her goal of making the U.S. Paralympic team that competed in the 2012 Games in London.


"As an actress, I tried to play the role of an athlete," Sullivan said from her high-rise apartment
in Manhattan. "I knew I had to get up at 5 a.m., eat right, train hard, and be really dedicated. I
wasn't an athlete growing up, so I had to learn how to become one pretty quick."

Sullivan became a world-class Paralympic athlete in something quicker than a New York City minute. She became a four-time national champion and set the American record for the 100 meter event in the 2012 London Games.

"To be there in front of 80,000 people was truly incredible," she said.


Sullivan returned after the Games, but NBC Sports chose her to provide commentary for
the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio. That was after taking a break from an acting career that
saw her land roles in  Nip/Tuck, My Name Is Earl, and Last Man Standing.

"Can't is a four-letter word to me," she said. "You should never let anyone tell you 'no' or that
you can't do something. Live your dreams, not someone else's. "

As for that doctor who said, "The world doesn't need another athlete," upon her arrival to
this world.

"I would love to find him and show him the athlete I became," Sullivan said with an ear-to-ear
grin on her face.


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

THE FREEZE HEATS UP MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL


Forget about being like Mike,  I want to be The Freeze. Yeah, you know the superhero in
Atlanta who has managed to juice up major league baseball without taking a single PED.

This guy, dressed in a sleek aqua spandex suit complete with goggles that makes him look like
an Ooompa Loompa all stretched out, is the best promotion in sports since the chicken was hatched
in San Diego during the late 70's.

As he bursts from foul line-to-foul line like he's shot out of a cannon at Sun Trust Park, the
new home of the Atlanta Braves, I thought for sure Terrell Owens had finally found his true
calling and was in a place where he was truly happy. But it wasn't T.O.

This guy runs so fast and so effortlessly, I was almost certain the Braved hired a former
professional athlete to pull off a promotion that has captivated not only fans, but the players
as well. Just who the heck was this guy? Chad Ochocinco? Randy Moss? Perhaps, it was
Atlanta resident and Olympic champion Edwin Moses running some sprints to keep in shape
Or just maybe Falcons star receiver Julio Jones is just getting in some work before he has to
report to training camp.


Well, in this Facebook, Twitter, iPhone world we live in, there's no secret than can ever be
kept and the Braves were pretty forthcoming in revealing the identity of The Freeze. It's
a guy named Nigel Talton, a 26-year-old security guard and member of the Braves' grounds
crew.

According to news outlets with more credibility than CNN, which is a Bubba Watson drive
from Sun Trust Park, Talton was a sprinter, (no kidding) at Iowa Wesleyan and Shorter University. He ran a sub-10.5 second 100-meters, which is smokin'.

The Braves hired Talton to help promote frozen drinks at RaceTrac gas stations (It's a southern
thing)  He would be called The Freeze. And fans would try to Beat The Freeze--and they'd
get about a 200-foot head start.


The Freeze has lost a few times---that I know of. But this little promotion has sparked ny
interest in sports. Well, honestly, I don't care about scores and highlights anymore and baseball
on television absolutely bores me. The only thing I really care about in the sports world today
is whether or not The Freeze wins his race. I anxiously await to see highlights of The Freeze
splashed across the Internet.  I wish he raced every night instead of the 81 times when the
Braves play at home. Man, I hope he doesn't pull a hammy or show up on the police blotter
anytime soon. That would be a total bummer.

The Freeze is so awesome. I want to be him for a day...or an hour....or for just those 25 seconds
it takes him to run from foul line-to-foul line. I was a plodder, a Clydesdale, a true slow poke.
To be able to run like the Freeze would be so cool.


The Freeze has become way cooler than the original Dos Equis ever was. Stay fast, my
friend.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

BULL DURHAM AT 29: A TRUE HOLLYWOOD STORY


In the fall of 1987, the cast and crew for a low-budget baseball movie began filming at
Durham Athletic Park, an old stadium located in the heart of Tobacco Road. The DAP, as it
was known, had some of the charm of Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, with its short porch
in right field, a warehouse as a backdrop, and seats so close to the action you could almost smell the breath of the fans sitting in them. It was the perfect setting for "Bull Durham", which was made
for just $7 million dollars.

Nobody really knew what this baseball movie was about when production began. The local
paper did a story in advance of its filming and had a quote from a Hollywood producer who
read the script, but who was not affiliated with the movie in any way. He predicted that it would
not only be "the worst baseball movie ever made, but quite possibly the worst movie ever created."


Many could see where that producer was coming from, after all, most sports movies, with
the exception of "Slapshot" and "Caddyshack" had bombed at the box office.  Most directors
found it difficult to make  the action believable with actors who had no athletic ability
whatsoever. In some cases, like "Bang the Drum Slowly," the baseball scenes were
downright laughable.

When I was asked to work on the movie, I honestly didn't care whether it was going to
win an Oscar for Best Picture or go straight to Blockbuster video stores. As a Radio, TV,
and Movie Production major at UNC, I was interested in getting some experience in seeing
how a movie was made. Little did I know that it would end up as all-time classic and
become part of my life forever.

First of all, filming "Bull Durham" was like 30 days of "Animal House" and "Comedy Central" mixed together. It was a laugh a minute, and in between. there was some work on the actual production of the movie.  The cast that included Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins,
and Robert Wuhl knew how to have a great time while making the movie, and they helped
make it an unforgettable experience. There were long days, lots of drinking, plenty of sex, and
too many laugh-until-you-can't-breath jokes to count.


Coming off two wildly successful movies, "No Way Out" and "The Untouchables",
Costner was the perfect guy to play Crash Davis because he could act and play baseball.
Costner was a terrific person during the 30 days of filming in Durham. He picked up every
tab and treated everyone from the grips to Sarandon, the same way and that was with great
respect.. Costner didn't have that big Hollywood ego just yet. I heard a lot  of unflattering things about Costner after "Bull Durham", but he was great to everybody during the filming of
it.

Costner pulled off the best prank of "Bull Durham" when he made an secret arrangement
with a Durham Police officer. Tom Gagliardi, who played the Bulls second basemen, was
bragging one day how he hooked up with a woman who looked like she was 16-years old.

The following day, Costner convinced the police officer to come onto the field during filming
and arrest Gagliardi for statutory rape. The officer broke out his hand-cuffs and told the actor
he had the right to remain silent. Gagliardi freaked out and started running around shouting,
"I didn't do anything, this is a big mistake.The girl said she was 21!". The officer led Gagliardi
away in handcuffs until everyone started cracking up. I must admit it was pretty hilarious.



There were scenes that were just as funny as that incident, but ended up on the cutting room
floor. Danny Gans, who played the third baseman  for the Bulls and was later a star in Vegas
as an impressionist, did a national anthem that included Michael Jackson and a moon walk,
Kermit the Frog, Tom Jones, Frank Sinatra, and Sammy Davis, Jr., all performed to a T by
Gans. It was a showstopper and made everyone roar with laughter. Unfortunately, it didn't
make the final cut.

People always ask me how I got to be in "Bull Durham" and the home run scene with Costner.
I'd like to say I was walking down the street and the director discovered me, kind of like the
episode of the "Brady Bunch", where a Hollywood-type director wanted them to be the subject
of a series. I was in the right place and the right time. That's it, that's all.

I  played baseball at UNC and was just finishing up my course work to get my degree.
Someone called UNC and gave them my name. I showed up and did what I always did, I just
played ball.

The first scene I was in, called for me to hit a double as a right-handed hitter. Tim Robbins,
who played "Nuke LaLoosh" actually had to throw it to me because the camera was behind
him  filming the scene. He was the  worst athlete any actor could possibly be. The guy was all
over the place.  Crash Davis was right when he said Nuke couldn't hit water if he fell out of
a boat. Before the scene, Ron Shelton, who wrote and directed the movie, told me to try to
hit a line-drive between shortstop and third base. I said to myself, "If I could do that, I'd probably
be playing in the big leagues."


What made that even harder was the fact that Robbins couldn't throw the ball over the plate, or
within a mile of it. He was throwing it behind me, over my head, five feet in front of the plate,
and he hit me twice in the back. It took 17 takes to get the scene right. When I finally hit one,
I was so stunned that I didn't even move. Costner got up and yelled at me, "Run!". In the
movie, the radio man back in Durham hits a piece of wood and says, "there's a line drive to
left-center field."

I was catching when Costner had his first at-bat for the Durham Bulls, but we traded places
later in the movie. Costner was behind the plate when I got up in the 9th inning, while Nuke
was working on a shut out. During this scene, which was filmed with the cameras directly
in front of Costner and a minor-league pitcher replaced Robbins (Nuke) on the mound. I had
to a curveball even though the most ardent baseball observer couldn't tell the difference
between the fastball and curveball when it appears on screen for 1/100th of  second.

Shelton told me to hit the ball and then "give it your best Reggie Jackson in watching the
ball go out."  That meant I should act like the ball had been hit so far "it should've had a damn stewardess on it."  I must admit, I didn't have a lot of experience in that since I only
hit four home runs in my career at UNC.

After Nuke kept shaking Crash Davis (Costner) off, he stood up and said, "Charlie, here
comes the duece. When you speak of me, speak well." I just gave some cheesy smile and
got back into the box. I wished they had let me say, "thanks" or something because if I had a
line, I'd still be getting paid today.

I cranked the ball out on the fourth take and did like Shelton asked me to and gave it my
best Reggie Jackson-pose. They said cut, that's a wrap, and I was gone. I didn't hold my
breath for any of the scenes that I was in to make the final cut. I was superstitious, so I
really didn't say anything to anyone. I chalked the whole thing up to one great experience.

A month later, in December,  the Boston Red Sox organization called and offered me a
free-agent contract. Six months later, on June 13th, 1988, I just happened to be back at the
same park playing against the real-life Durham Bulls. And it just happened to be "Bull Durham Night". I was like, what were the chances of all this happening. We were scheduled to see the premiere of the movie the next day.


In the eighth-inning of our game against the Bulls, I came up to bat with the bases loaded. Two months into my minor-league career, I had yet to hit a home run. And since I had only been
hitting left-handed for two years, I had never hit a home run from that side of the plate. I hit a
ball which I thought was going to be a routine fly ball to right field. Somehow, someway, the
ball carried and cleared the fence by about a half-an-inch. It must've been divine intervention
or something because I hit the ball in the same spot as I did in the movie. It was all so surreal.

I hit two more home runs against the Bulls in that same park later that year. I often said that
I hit .420 in that park and .091 everywhere else. There was something really magical for me
when I played at Durham Athletic Park.



In the off-season that year, I received a big package from UPS. It was from Kevin Costner.
He had purchased a letterman-type jacket for everyone who worked on "Bull Durham", which
was over 200 people. On the back of the jacket read, "Bull Durham-The Greatest Show on Dirt". Production crew 1987. It was a great gesture by Costner.


I never really thought much of my home run scene in "Bull Durham" because I just hit a ball,
which didn't take any great talent or ability. I thought of the movie as a great experience and
that was about it. But 29 years later, it continues to follow me around. People call, email, or text me
every time they see my home run on the countless number of times "Bull Durham" is re-run on
various networks.

Friends introduce me to acquaintances as the "guy who hit a home run in "Bull Durham'. Or
they start with, "hey, do you remember the guy in Bull Durham...?" I honestly get embarrassed
about it. It was a long, long time ago.

But man, it was helluva an experience.